Rechnender Raum

From 25 February till 2 May 2010 the Netherlands Media Art Institute is harbouring the 13th Sonic Acts exhibition, including a bunch of installations. I was mostly charmed by Rechnender Raum, an installation by Ralf Baecker.

An installation that asks for some time and investigation to discover its inner workings. The piece looks very open and inviting, showing all it’s ongoing processes to the audience. One might suspect some interaction with the audience or the environment, but this is not the case. The ongoing process is just continuously reacting upon itself. As far as I can see, the system is a cellular network consisting of 27 nodes. The nodes communicate with each other by simple, thin strings. Each node can have two possible states: pull or no-pull. It’s pull or no-pull state depends on the pull or no-pull message from a bunch of other nodes that it is connected to by the strings. These incoming messages are preprocessed by a combination of mechanical logic switches that conclude in one pull or no-pull message, all in a Boolean logic fashion. The resulting pull or no-pull state of this node is then again a message send to a bunch of other nodes, all through ropes. To the audience it becomes clear that the whole of the process is clearly visible, it’s all happening in front of your eyes. But to follow what* is actually happening, what messages are send where, that is pretty hard – impossible even – to do. So, at first the installation looks very transparent and inviting but it turns out it is very much turned inward, reacting only on itself. In dialog with itself. Communicating messages that are impossible to follow for the outsider.

This network has two distinct forms of output:
First, there is a constantly shape-shifting wireframe (build up of red, elastic ropes) which is being manipulated by the pulling of all the nodes. This output is, ironically enough, at the core of the installation, as if the network is showing it only to itself, not to the audience. This adds wonderfully well to the paradox of open-closedness.

Secondly, each node also has a tiny speaker through which it emits a gentle sound. With 27 nodes together this results in a pleasant, constant shifting buzz. To me it however didn’t become clear how this sound is conceptually related to the piece as a whole.

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